Concert Review - David Grisman
Troy Music Hall, 11/18/06
By Glenn Weiser
Metroland, November 22, 2006

Mando Cane
David Grisman Quintet
Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Nov. 18

The bearded, 20-something longhair sitting next to me waiting for the bluegrass band the Country Gentleman to begin a show at New York University in the early 1970s had his mandolin in his lap, and was picking furiously away. Intent on his tune, he gave two-word replies to my brief attempt at conversation: What was he playing? “June Apple.” What did his mandolin cost? “Eight hundred dollars.” When the band came on, he jammed along with every song, apparently unconcerned if anyone deemed his unbilled accompaniment inappropriate.

Years later, I saw his photograph on an album cover. He was David Grisman, aka Dawg, a nickname Jerry Garcia had given him (that’s Grisman’s mandolin on the classic Grateful Dead album American Beauty). The singlemindedness he had shown at the concert had made him one of the world’s leading mandolinists; as well as mastering bluegrass, he’d also penned swing and Latin tunes, blending them all into a genre he eponymously named Dawg music. On Saturday night, Grisman and acoustic bandmates Enrique Coria on guitar, Jim Kerwin on string bass, Matt Earkle on flutes and pennywhistle, and George Marsh on percussion, came to the Troy Music Hall, and to a crowd of about 700, turned in two impeccably performed sets consisting mostly of Grisman’s stylistically diverse instrumentals.

His long hair and beard are white now, and his countenance reminiscent of Michelangelo’s paintings of God in the Sistine Chapel. Casually dressed in a black shirt and slacks, Grisman walked onstage and joked with the crowd, quipping, “I’ve always been there for me,” before opening with “Dawg’s Rag,” the first of several canine-titled tunes offered that night. It wasn’t a true ragtime composition, though, but rather an uptempo Latin piece during which the mandolin and guitar traded fleet four-bar riffs before the flute soloed energetically in the style of jazz icon Herbie Mann.

The band then switched grooves to funk for “Acousticity,” but the low volume of the bass in the mix (later remedied) left the music without the needed punch.

Particularly moving was Grisman’s arrangement of the poignant traditional Jewish folk tune “Shalom Aleichem” (Peace Be With You). He soaked the melody in pathos, and it was at moments like these that he was at his best.

At the end of the first set, mandolin great Frank Wakefield, wearing a red Western shirt and grinning like a court jester, came out to pick a few tunes with Grisman: an unidentified, classical-sounding theme and variations, and Wakefield’s “New Camptown Races,” which he sped up to a blistering tempo Grisman himself never attempted all night.

The second set was devoted to material from Grisman’s new record, Dawg’s Groove, and included compositions by his bandmates. “Ella McDonnell,” a multi-part composition by Kerwin, was the sole Celtic tune performed, while Gorger Marsh’s “Lucy’s Waltz,” written for a daughter who had died of cystic fibrosis, was so dark in mood it was positively sepulchral.

The title track of Grisman’s new CD began with finger snapping to a slinky bass line a la Peggy Lee’s “Fever,” but then the musical Ray-Bans came off and the tune took on shades of John Coltrane as Grisman riffed over a static harmony.

The band encored with “Shady Grove,” during which Grisman’s only singing of the evening confirmed his wisdom in choosing to be an instrumentalist.

You might think David Grisman self-absorbed for naming so many of his tunes and even his style of music after himself. But that clearly didn’t matter to the crowd standing and cheering at the end of the show.

Index of Metroland Articles by Glenn Weiser    ©2006 by Glenn Weiser. All rights reserved.  

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